Monday, August 31, 2009

RE: Re-presenting representing music [how one TF felt about how PC feels right now]

~ This week, as both a part II and a rejoinder to PC's piece on 'where he's at' with writing/reviews/online, regular RA scribe and now international man of mystery meats, the 'from-now-on'irregular sausage, Mr Terrence Fuller, replies... ~

Hey Peter:

Thanks for the chance to respond to your post about music reviewing. I'm the type of guy who works better when given something to react against, instead of given an open canvas of infinite possibility. I also tend to write a bit shorter than you, because I don't go in for all that flowery language. Hopefully, though, you'll appreciate the time I've spent thinking about this.

As someone who has been writing for RA for a (relatively) short time, but been reading the internet since…well…it began entering into suburban homes, I've been intrigued by the comment box mentality. I was recently listening to a radio show that had someone on that talked about "online disinhibition," which related some of the more heinous ways that people can act. Whatever, nothing new.

But, even in their less crazed forms, the kidz (z, because I still count myself as one of them, even as I edge closer and closer out of the age range) are unruly. And music criticism (a thing we must say that is VERY different than music journalism) is a playing field that has been supposedly leveled. (Everybody has a blog, etc. etc.) But what I think people don't seem to understand is that there is more music journalism than ever. The regurgitation of press releases, the posting of mp3s, the "bassline sounds like this," the "remix toughens up the drums" is all information. Some of it is phrased poorly. Some of it is flat-out wrong. But it's all journalism in one form or another, because it doesn't speak very much at all to whether it works better. Or why it works better.

That's of course the hard part. And that's where the kidz get unruly. Compare it to something they don't understand, and it's a knee-jerk reaction. Try to make a fanciful turn of phrase along the way, and you'll get the hordes out calling for your hide. How dare you advance an argument that I don't understand immediately? That is, if they're reading the review at all. As Peter rightly points out, it's mostly "rating, scan, comment, close window, post on twitter" with some steps being added and some steps being taken away—depending on the type of person you are.

In any case, to get to your specific points: Your first—that descriptive previews are thoroughly unnecessary is on-point. In writing my own reviews, I try to be careful as possible to use those descriptions as jumping-off points to describe how or what the person is doing. And why. (I'm not a mind-reader, of course, but it's part of the job…that doesn't pay.) Any time I read a review that simply tells you how it sounds, my eyes glaze over. There are very few internet-based writers that are going to delight your senses with a turn of phrase.

Your second is a bit hard to parse, but what I get is that you're frustrated by people reviewing the review. To that, I don't know what to tell you aside from "buck up, kid." But I'm not sure the ssg readers want to hear our self-help session. I don't want to blow smoke up RA's ass either. There is a bit of free-wheeling idea-driven stuff on there, but it's just as likely to offer up the same dance music mag clich├ęs as anyone. Which I think is down to the wide variety of contributors that they have.

Getting off that point, though, I wanted to ask you a question: What do you think that artists think of journalists that don't seem to have gotten what they're going after? I don't mean the guys that have spent the time researching the work, and deciding it ain't up to snuff. But the people who completely miss that, say, Butane's new album is all about "evolution" and Darwin. (We can argue about how good it is later. I think we both know.) I imagine it's the same feeling that you're getting out of the commenters. This guy didn't even take the time to hear what I was trying to do/read what I was saying. Similarly, I also wonder how much artists care about fans that come up to them, have listened to the album three times and say they love it. And what about the ones who do that before the album has been released, because they've downloaded it instead of buying it? I think you're simply agonizing in the same way that an artist agonizes over his album. And, that's a good thing. It's something that perhaps artists should know about. We actually care too. We don't want you to suck!

To your third point: Fuck this. Anything that we can do to facilitate the idea that if music is good enough to be listened to today, it should be good to listen to three months from now is a good thing. MORE late reviews please. MORE early reviews please. MORE reviews of tracks that have come out 18 months ago. I want to hear about your now. I don't want to hear about your now, as pushed upon you by publicists and labels that have been forced by the marketplace to rely so heavily on a release date to make their living. (Although I did read an absolute fascinating thread on ILM a while back that talked about how labels really do rely completely on first week sales in the dance music world. Which, if you think about it, is shocking considering that so many other genres now seemingly, anecdotally rely on more long-term strategies for their (ugh) product. I guess that's just the world of the 12-inch, though.)

Anyway, enough for me. Thanks again for sending this along – hope you get something out of here to chew on.


Afterthought from TF: I think once you get past all the music crit inside baseball talk, what you're really asking is a question that I've seen asked in countless magazines and books in the past few years. "Is Google/the internet/the modern age making us dumber?" And I think the answer to that is an unequivocal "No, but..." The but being that it's not making us appreciably dumber or smarter overall as a society, it's just changing the way that we learn and process information. It's all breadth, no depth. As you always say, we're sailing the datasea. Not willing/bothering/able (?) to dive underneath the surface lest we miss a new horizon that we (think we) haven't seen before.


  1. Totally agree with "more late reviews". Somehow, I have a hunch (or is it a wish?) that tail is gonna get longer even for the dance music genres.
    Reviewing the review is a natural thing if you think that comment boxes have any purpose? I know, its a matter of style and offenses taken, but I personally don't read one line comments.

  2. I think an interesting concept would be to review tracks 3, 6, 12, even 24 months after its release, and discuss it's relevance, hype, popularity, and what effect it has now in the clubs/at home/to DJs.

  3. interesting ideas. this series of posts has really got me thinking. although this website is SOOO march 2009 :P

  4. A fantastic rebuttal, hopefully I'll be able to find some timew away from work too make a worthwhile contribution to this debate.

  5. Nice 'Boring review" comment on today's RAview of South West Four. Oh man, what an asshole!

    @ Jason Rule.. I think LWE's BBH column is a really nice move in that direction, even though it's more geared towards outright classics than 1 - 2 year old music.

    As far as your frustration, Peter, I wonder if quite a large problem isn't to do with place, more than anything. Only a few cities seem now to incubate much of a dance music scene at all, which perhaps was once different. Moreover, those places themselves have dwindling record shops, and very very few clubs at all conducive to conversation. For this reason, the places to be involved in dance music now are only about two, I would think: Berlin and the internet.

    For me, I wouldn't want the kind of intelligent criticism you produce [Peter, Terrence] to be the only writing there. For me, RA comments, even twatty ones, are a kind of vital middle ground between critical discussion and club consumption. If we couldn't have easy, every day discussion (of a sort) on places like RA, I would get none at all, outside of abortive conversations with staff in London record shops and that occasional lovely, clued-up chat in club smoking areas.

    That wouldn't be enough for me and I don't think it would be healthy for creativity generally, because of what I view as another important role for online reviews. Most record shops have specialised taste, and DJ charts reflect the niche styles that DJs play, an economic considerations of what's coming out on their/friends' label. For this reason, the descriptive preview' function of reviews is important. It turns people on to good music coming from places that they wouldn't have looked for it, no matter how easy it may be to find once you do.

    Even those comments that ignore the critical discussion are still a very good gauge of how effective a reviewer is in warning people towards or away from one cul-de-sac in the happy, vaguely suburban community that is electronic music!

  6. Nice to get a sociological approach, so thanks for this, Terrence. Bootsy's point here:
    "... comments, even twatty ones, are a kind of vital middle ground between critical discussion and club consumption" is also a most valid one.
    I would only add that the very vastness of this shallow "datasea" we all float upon creates a sense of isolation in ourselves and with it the desire to reach out and play a part/be involved - thus the habit of 'commenting' on whatever information is happened upon, basically as a need to 'connect'.

  7. @ Bootsy:

    1) I am a jaded fart, it's true, but nonetheless I have and do make the claim that electronic music needs to invent some new contexts for itself: it's been nesting in the ambivalent land of the nightclub, which, for me, is a space of hedonism, not music. A drug scene that listens to music, mre than a music scene that does drugs.

    In the case of Melbourne, it's true, there are fewer venues than ever and most events have been totally overwhelmed and, in my view, undermined, by big box corporate raving events...

    ...last night I went and saw a jam band, and it was fully improv and totally loose, interesting, risky and fun. The overhwelming majority of groove-based electronic music, in terms of presentation, is incredibly safe, boring, conservative right now.

    ...this in contrast to the production, distribution and discussion of electronic music, which I personally see as incredibly fertile, lively and full of interesting directions and possibilities.

    2) I'd be concerned about getting nostalgic about record stores: some of them were good, but most of them were expensive, unfriendly, and didn't have what you want. Living in Tokyo was a revelation in this regard, but even there, vinyl-based specialist stores are declining.

    ~ to unite these two general trends, Melbourne's HearNow has just
    closed, and so is F4 (this weekend!), two of the very, very few record stores and clubs (respectively) left that were part of the old 90s assembly.... it remains to be scene what the kids build... I for one would like to see something totally new, unexpected and suprising.... ~

    I'll wager that as the fetish/collector's vinyl market replaces the market created by DJs who HAD to use vinyl in order simply to be a DJ, new stores and ways of listening will emerge. But it's gonna be small... but is that necessarily a bad thing? There was a lot of bad vinyl, a lot of shitty record stores, a lot of shitty, expensive parties (remember the glossy fliers?).. the '99 era was just as problematic.

    For me, I'd like to see a turn to more occasional festivals like Labyrinth... I feel like the possibilities of the week-in, week-out club fixture have been exhausted for the time being, and the international-appears-at-a-medium-size-venue model likewise is getting really, really tired.

    But: wouldn't it be nice if so many of these quality SSG connections could be re-territorialised here and there by more Labyrinths?

    And wouldn't it be nice if there was a small, nutritious store/venue/party thang around?

    And wouldn't it be nice if creative people could 'get paid to do the wild thing'? the mean time, we live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse would have it....


Say something constructive, bitte. Or if you're gonna take a swipe, at least sharpen your nails.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.